Topeka Budgets for the state's public universities, including Kansas University, would be cut 1.5 percent for each of the next two fiscal years under a deal approved by Republican budget leaders on Tuesday.
The proposal represented the first perceptible movement toward ending the wrap-up legislative session that started May 8 after a monthlong break.
Negotiations also began on proposed tax changes, although not much headway was made on that issue.
Gov. Sam Brownback met early Tuesday with GOP leaders. Speaking briefly to reporters, Brownback said it was time for the Legislature to finish its business.
"Everybody has to compromise," Brownback said.
A House-Senate budget conference committee pushed forward a spending plan that may be voted on by the full House on Wednesday.
Under the plan, universities would face a 1.5 percent cut for the fiscal year starting July 1, and another 1.5 percent cut for the fiscal year after that.
Prior to the agreement, the House had proposed a 4 percent cut, while the Senate offered a 1 percent cut.
Tim Caboni, vice chancellor for public affairs at KU, said he was glad the size of the proposed cut by the House was reduced, but that he still supported Brownback's position opposing cuts to higher education.
"We're moving in the right direction, but we prefer the governor's proposed budget," Caboni said. "There is a ways to go," he said.
Caboni said cuts to higher education could hurt the Kansas economy. But the House's budget leader, state Rep. Marc Rhoades, R-Newton, said the 3 percent cut over two years may be the best offer higher education gets.
Rhoades said he felt there was too much wasteful spending in higher education and duplication of effort, and he criticized recent tuition increases.
The House also reduced a proposed cut through the taking of lapsed budget funds, but it was unclear how much the new proposal would cost universities.
The budget will also include a provision aimed at stopping KU from eliminating programs or reducing enrollment at its medical school campuses in Salina or Wichita. When faced with the earlier, larger proposed budget cuts, KU officials had said the reductions may force drastic cuts at those campuses.
On the tax side, Senate Republicans proposed setting the state sales tax at 6.25 percent, phasing out nearly all tax deductions while lowering income tax rates.
The current 6.3 percent state sales tax is scheduled to fall to 5.7 percent on July 1, but Brownback and the Senate have called for making the 6.3 percent rate permanent to shore up the budget crunch caused by last year's income tax cuts, and to buy down future income tax cuts. Republican majorities in the Legislature say income tax cuts will boost the economy, while Democrats have said the cuts will benefit mostly the wealthy and jeopardize important government services, such as public education.
House Republicans had earlier offered to go to a 6 percent state sales tax, and the Senate countered with 6.25 percent.
"We think it's a legitimate offer," said the Senate's chief tax negotiator, Les Donovan, R-Wichita. "It's a path to get out of here," he said.
House tax negotiators said they would come back Wednesday with a counteroffer.
Tuesday was the 88th day of a session that Republican leaders had initially wanted to last only 80 days. But the standoff over spending and taxes has kept legislators in Topeka.